CanmetENERGY investigates ways to increase energy output and decrease greenhouse gas emissions in the iron and steel industries. Kirby Wittich, a research engineer with the Industrial Innovation Group assists in these efforts as an expert in heat transfer and materials, fluid dynamics and machine design.
I primarily work in coal carbonization. This is an exciting, hands-on field where we explore ways to produce better quality coke. We’re proud of our facility because it’s unique in Canada and among only a few world-wide. Properties of coals for coke-making vary greatly, and there’s quite a range in their costs. You have to mix 3 ,4, 5 coals to make an affordable coke with good qualities. Industry often is not set up to look at ways to reduce these costs so we engage them to do this.
We try and understand both practical and fundamental issues industry faces. Leveraging the practical experience of industry makes our research more targeted and relevant. For example, mines typically have only a few 10’s of kilograms of coal sample of newly explored seams. This makes it tough to do pilot scale testing requiring 400 kg. So we look at cutting an optimum compromise between small scale testing and the relevancy of the results.
One fundamental issue the industry is facing is that the availability of high quality coal is going down, forcing alternatives to traditional coal blends. Greater understanding of the science is needed to make advances that empirical blending just can’t. For instance, mineral matter in coals greatly affect coke strength, and we’re delving deeper into that, to make better-founded choices in blending.
About ten percent of industry now uses energy recovery coke ovens, which release less fugitive emissions and greenhouse gases. These will become more prevalent as older ovens are replaced. We are currently getting ready to build a pilot scale energy recovery coke oven here at CanmetENERGY.
These ovens are more amenable to biofuels such as forestry waste. Incorporating biofuels will stretch coal resources while maintaining coke quality but in a more environmentally friendly way. Charcoal plants may one day integrate with forestry field operations. This way its more affordable to use the carbon in trees to replace some of the coal in coke making. There are only a few coal carbonization laboratories around the world. CanmetENERGY is a real leader because we already have a rich knowledge of the carbonization research much of which was done here. We’re in a great position to make a difference.
For more information on CanmetENERGY’s work in coal and coke technologies please visit our partners page and publications section on canmet-energy.gc.ca